The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) is encouraged by the initiatives announced today by President Obama to improve the deeply frayed relationship between police and communities of color. The announcement includes the Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group Report, the final report by the President’s Task Force on 21St Century Policing and accompanying initiatives and plans for their implementation.
The Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group will ensure that certain types of military equipment such as bayonets, grenade launchers and weaponized vehicles and aircraft are no longer available to local police agencies through the use of federal funds or transfers. Agencies seeking to utilize other forms of military equipment must satisfy new standards for training and data collection. Through letters to the Administration and Congressional testimony, LDF called for an end to the use of all such military equipment by local police, noting particularly troubling concerns about their use in schools. LDF’s President & Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill stated: “We are grateful that President Obama and the Policing Task Force he appointed listened to the calls for reform made by civil rights groups and activists. We also owe a debt of gratitude to those in Ferguson who used their activism to expose the shocking truth about local law enforcement reliance on this type of equipment. The ban on the transfer of weapons to law enforcement solely serving K-12 schools is an important first step toward ensuring the safety of students and communities, especially given high rates of discipline disparities along racial lines.”
The Task Force’s final report, which mirrors the interim report released in March 2015, contains recommendations to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies aimed at improving policing services and building trust between communities of color and law enforcement. LDF is pleased that the Task Force’s final report and new initiatives launched to implement the report embrace several recommendations previously advanced by LDF. Earlier this year, Sherrilyn Ifill offered testimony at a Task Force Listening Session entitled “Building Trust and Legitimacy” in which she advocated for accountability measures in policing, law enforcement training on explicit and implicit bias, and transparency in policing through robust data collection on citizen-police encounters. LDF supplemented that testimony with a letter to the Task Force advocating for reliance on special prosecutors in incidents of police misconduct or excessive force, the mandatory collection of data on police use of force, the demilitarization of schools, and training on bias-free policing and de-escalation of citizen-police encounters.
In addition, LDF has called for national data collection on incidents of use of force by police officers and other civilian-police interactions. The White House seeks to carry this out through its Police Data Initiative–a voluntary data collection effort undertaken by 21 police departments that have agreed to collect and publicly release various data including: use of force, police pedestrian and vehicle stops, and officer involved shootings. These data will be used to map the locations of these community-police encounters, and in some cities, will be used to inform early warning systems that will identify officers who have had negative interactions with civilians.
“While this voluntary Police Data Initiative holds the promise of using data to identify unlawful and racially discriminatory interactions between police and communities of color,” Ifill continues, “LDF firmly believes that this type of data collection and anti-racial bias training and enforcement should be required of all law enforcement agencies receiving federal funding, and will look to Congress and the Administration to make such a mandate a reality.”